How Green is Panama City Beach?

by July 13, 2009 • 14 comments

green-recycle-imgSo how “Green” is Panama City Beach? Well, by most accounts, not very but at the same time not terrible. When attempting to determine a city’s overall “Green-ness” there are twelve criteria that decidedly affect all cities, no matter the geography, that are the standard. The twelve criteria list was put together after a survey done by the National Geographic’s “Green Guide”. Here is the list:

Air Quality: In order to measure air quality, we based our score on the EPA’s Air Quality Index (AQI) and smoking bans noted on the Smoke Free World website. About 60 percent of cities surveyed have passed a smoking ban. AQI values are broken into five different ranges with lower values indicating less polluted air (Good 0-50, Moderate 51-100, Unhealthy for Sensitive Individuals 101-150, Unhealthy 151-200, Very Unhealthy 201-300 and Hazardous 301-500). Anchorage, Alaska, had the best median AQI at 19 while the worst was a 79 in Saint Louis. The average value was 43.5 for cities participating in this study.

Electricity Use and Production: Close to 40 percent of U.S. emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) comes from electric utilities. Since coal accounts for over 90 percent of these emissions, we asked survey respondents to note each city’s energy mix from resources including coal, oil, biomass, geothermal, hydroelectric, nuclear, oil, solar and wind. Also included were incentives for the home use of solar or wind power, such as rebates or property tax exemptions.

Environmental Perspective: City administrators were asked to rank from 1 (highest) to 9 (lowest) nine issues in order of importance to city residents—education, employment, environmental concerns, health care, housing costs, public safety, reliable electricity and water service, property taxes and traffic congestion. Scores were assigned depending on the ranking given to environmental concerns. Out of a total of nine, the average ranking for the importance of environmental concerns was 5.4.

Environmental Policy: In the survey, we asked city officials whether the city has an environmental policy, a specific indication of concerted effort at the municipal level to better the environment. Thirty-six cities, or 58 percent of respondents, had such statements.

Green Design: The resource-conserving, non-toxic standards of USGBC’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program have become the basis for many cities’ green building projects. Recognizing this, we based scores not only on survey responses about policies and incentives for green design but also on LEED projects listed on the USGBC’s website. While we collected data on the degree of LEED certification (Certified, Silver, Gold and Platinum) buildings achieved, this did not affect scoring. Additional points were given to cities reducing sprawl. A total of 29 cities, or 46.8 percent of participants, reported having a policy to encourage green design. Forty cities, or 64.5 percent of respondents, reported having a city policy to help prevent sprawl.

Green Space: Survey respondents were asked to identify the variety of green spaces, including athletic fields, city parks, public gardens, trail systems and waterfronts, along with any additional spaces. This question was designed to elicit the variety of outdoor amenities available and was scored on the total number of different types of green spaces present. Scoring also considered the percentage of overall city area occupied by green space.

Public Health: Scores were based on Robert Weinhold’s rankings of the 125 healthiest U.S. cities as published in the March 2004 Organic Style.

Recycling: Survey respondents were asked to indicate which items their city recycles from a list that included aluminum, cardboard, glass, hazardous materials, paper, plastic, tin and other. Cities that had more then seven categories of recyclable items were given the highest scores.
Socioeconomic Factors: Cities scored well for having less than the national average of families and individuals earning below the poverty rate. Participants also gained points for having a city minimum wage and for the availability of housing affordable to families earning the area’s median income according to the National Association of Home Owners’ Housing Opportunity Index.

Transportation: Wishing to recognize efforts to get people out of their cars (reducing greenhouse gases, traffic congestion and smog), we asked survey respondents about the transportation options available, including bicycle paths, bus systems, carpool lanes, dedicated bicycle lanes, light rail, sidewalks/trails and subways. As a follow up to this, we also asked about the percentages of residents who used public transportation, rode bicycles to work and carpooled.

Water Quality: In order to assess this complicated factor, we drew on data from the EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Information System (SDWIS) and noting violations of the Safe Water Drinking Act, with the greatest weight given to health violations.

How Does Panama City Beach Fare and What Can We Do?

On the surface, Panama City Beach’s “Green-ness” isn’t bad. The beach, and necessary steps to keep the beach clean, puts it in environmentally good shape. In air quality, Panama City ranks “Good” lower than the average at 35 but higher than other Florida Cities like Hollywood, FL who whose AQI was at 23. In 274 days in a year, 228 of those days the air quality was good, 43 days moderate and 3 days the air was considered unhealthy for sensitive groups.

In terms of the PCB’s programs for recycling, transportation, overall green space and green design, Panama City Beach needs some serious work. And, to be honest, it’s not easy being green. For any city, big or small, the job of keeping up with the loads trash, fluctuating traffic and pollution can be at times overwhelming. And for Panama City Beach, during it’s major tourist season, that job borders on impossible. Being greener is definitely a challenge, but in the end you have good public transportation, smart recycling programs and the kind of well-kept streets, parks and playgrounds that make cities fun and healthly places to live.

There are a number of ways Panama City Beach can become greener. The easiest, and of course greatest greenest priority, is to put regulatory efforts in keeping the beach cleaner. Here are a few other ways of helping Panama City Beach become greener without tearing it to bits:

Recycling: We have to do a better job of this. Cities all across America have not only adopted recycling programs, but integrated into their sanitation division to be picked up simultaneously from homes. We can do the same thing with little effort. It should also be noted that hotels and condos should be encouraged to recycle the many, many reservation papers they print as well as the ink cartridges used to print them.

Bike Sharing Programs: Bicycle-sharing programs offer racks of public bikes that can be used for one-way rides around town. Though such programs have mostly failed over the last 20 years, France is starting to break through: in 2005, the city of Lyon deployed a successful program, and Paris then adapted it. A one-year pass in Paris (about $40) buys access to 20,000 bicycles available at 1,500 stations throughout the city. The bikes cost nothing for the first 30 minutes, after which a sliding scale of rates apply. Some two dozen cities, notably Barcelona and Washington, D.C., now offer some sort of bike-sharing program, often subsidized by advertising. Best thing is, it’s cheaper and greener than busing.

Reduce Water Consumption: When I worked for a few different unnamed hotels and condos, I noticed that when they clean the pools, they drain them in order to clean the filter. On top of this, if the pool is ever out of chemical alignment, it requires more draining. What happens to all that water? Well, it is dumped and then replenished. Thousands of gallons every day. Much of this could be significantly reduced if chlorine pools were made into saltwater pools. The changeover is surprisingly simple and could drastically reduce the cost of water and chemicals.

CRA and Form Based Design: The upcoming decision on form based design regulations could very well be the catalyst to a much greener Panama City Beach. With talk of adding more pocket parks, bike lanes and walker-friendly store fronts, the implementation of the proper coding could do wonders for the city’s overall green-ness.

Smart Grid: The power grid that delivers our electricity might be complex, but it’s not too bright. Think of it as that phone in grandma’s house – you know, the one that doesn’t give you caller ID, let alone receive text messages or video of your friend’s graduation party. If it were smart, it could communicate with your house, and vice versa. At the household level, this means you’d know exactly which appliances are hogging power, and how to manage them more efficiently. At the city level, a smarter grid could change how power gets consumed, in part by charging more money at high-demand times. You could even sell excess renewable power back to the grid. You of course bury the current power lines and all of a sudden Panama City Beach is leading NW Florida in power efficiency.

The key to being a greener city is encouragement. It is up to our officials to coordinate and educate everyone, and encourage a greener lifestyle. It isn’t about changing who we are or spending unnecessary funds, in the end, it’s all about conserving our best asset: Panama City Beach.

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1 wanda July 13, 2009 at 10:45 am

“The key to being a greener city is encouragement. It is up to our officials to coordinate and educate everyone, and encourage a greener lifestyle.” This is so true. So many people aren’t going green just because they don’t understand that one person can make a big difference. Education is key in creating a greener community.


2 Frank July 13, 2009 at 10:45 am

I’m always surprised at how simple it is to actually affect and support the green movement. Many of these factors used to determine “green-ness” are things that the average person can do without much sacrifice. Good article–thanks for the information.


3 BeachinMod July 14, 2009 at 7:02 am

A recycling program would be great (especially considering the massive amounts of aluminum “beverage” cans thrown away in a place such as this. Walton County began a “blue bag” program which I believe is working. Maybe Bay should talk to the neighbors to the West to see how it has been is going.


4 Lesley LEEDs July 14, 2009 at 9:09 am

Hey, great post! You sure know what you’re talking about, and it sounds like you’re very interested in the topic. Thanks for clarifying how we can be evaluating our cities and beaches. You make some good points. Thanks again for the information!


5 Janis July 14, 2009 at 9:24 am

Those who are interested in learning more about sustainability are encouraged to join the local Emerald Coast Branch of the US Green Building Council. Meetings are held on the second Wednesday of each month at the Walton County Coastal Branch Library just off Hwy 331 in Santa Rosa Beach. It provides excellent opportunities for the trade as well as citizens and local governments to learn how to make their homes, businesses, schools and cities “greener”.


6 Don February 16, 2010 at 5:39 pm

I am a snow bird staying in a PCB condo. We recycle at home. Imagine my surprise when I dropped off my aluminum cans, plastic bottles, and paper at the recycle site only to find out you don’t collect glass! Most of my recyclables (by weight) were glass. Here’s hoping that changes soon.

BTW there was no info on the Bay County Recycling program at the condo. Many of your snowbirds already recycle. You could improve things quickly with just a little communication to condo owners and a little cooperation from owners in passing that on to renters.

Good luck!


7 Leslie March 19, 2010 at 5:00 pm

Thanks for recycling while you are here, Don! I agree, info should be made available to guests. I believe more people would recycle if they knew where to go. The bins would need to be bigger, though!

I had to do my own research when I arrived last January and I am still trying to figure out what to do with my glass. I was keeping it to take up to a friend’s in Atlanta when I go but two moves later I have had to toss it out.


8 Leslie March 19, 2010 at 4:58 pm

Great article! I have been here for just over a year, coming from a community where curbside pick up has been happening for over a decade. I do take my recycling to the drop off site at Pete Edwards field and encourage others to do the same. I found this article while looking for a place to take my glass since it has been bothering me tossing it out all this time.

BeachinMod mentioned all the cans but I also want to mention the plastic disposable drink cups at the bars. These all go in the trash!!


9 James D. March 20, 2010 at 1:06 pm

Geez, this article got resurrected fast!

Just to add to the above comment, in January I spoke with a rep from the county’s recycling program who was servicing the bins at Pete Edwards Field. I had a variety of recyclable items and was curious as to what happens to them. Interesting — and surprising!

Here’s how I understand it (supposedly) works:

All newspaper, office paper and cardboard is sold to a local firm for recycling. This is still the easiest and most popular material to recycle.

Metals such as aluminum, tin and steel all have a fairly decent market demand and are hauled to another firm that deals with metals marketing.

Unfortunately for plastics, the bottom fell out of the market with the “Great Recession” and a company from Dothan that used to pickup Bay County’s plastic recyclables has ceased doing so. Now all the plastic container bins get sent to the county incinerator, are mixed with other waste and burned at extremely high temperatures as fuel for two power-generating turbines.


10 Connie June 15, 2010 at 8:19 am

I’m a PCB resident and, coming from the MD/DC area, it shocked me to see how little recycling is done here! None of my neighbors do it. No one that works with my hubby at the local Naval base does it! o_O

Hopefully, once everyone realizes (here) how horribly the oil spill affects us, and the resultant furor thereof, there will be more of a push to make it easier for residents to recycle: namely, including recyclables pick-up concurrent with garbage pick-up.

It would be really nice if something good (like more concern for the environment) could arise out of the Deep Horizon tragedy!!!


11 Patty July 25, 2010 at 9:56 pm

We are a Georgia Based Geothermal Company – Transplanting to Florida. I like this blog – so I am bookmarking it :0) Very informative!!


12 Patty July 25, 2010 at 9:57 pm

Oh and I agree with Connie’s comment.. Go Green PCB!


13 Janet Miller February 6, 2015 at 10:18 pm

This is our second visit to Panama City Beach. We are Canadians from Ontario and like it here very much and plan on coming back next year . One of the first things that struck a chord with us was the fact that this vibrant, forward thinking city does not have curbside recycling pickup or recycling at any of the resorts. We are in a condo on Front Beach Rd and it disturbs us that every day we have to throw out with the trash, our cans, glass containers, cardboard/paper, and plastics. It’s sickening to think that all of it goes into the landfill. It’s unbelievable that in this day and age a city of this size does not have that in place already. What is wrong with the city fathers that they haven’t done this already? We have had it in place in our city of less than 100,000 for several years now. It is not difficult to get people used to the idea. Most residents here would probably welcome it. Our friends who also vacation here say the same thing, that they cannot believe they have to throw everything out. Shame, shame, shame, on Panama City Beach. This is 2015 not 1950. Please do something about this appalling situation.


14 Simon February 13, 2015 at 10:03 am

Being a visitor to the area, and being used to recycling at home(New Brunswick) we find it a shame to put paper, plastics,metal and glass into garbage.
Where in Panama City Beach can we take pop/beer cans and bottles to be recycled.